Why Ignoring the Importance of Downtime in Your Workday is Detrimental to Career Success

Ever felt job burnout? When downtime is neglected your mind doesn’t function to its full potential. In a recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics 83% of respondents said that they spent no time during the day relaxing, so it comes as no surprise that stressed and overworked staff are bad for business, causing both friction within the workplace culture and even resulting in staff taking more time off. However, this could all be avoided through scheduling downtime into your workday. 

With research showing that 1 in 4 people in the UK have a mental health problem at some point in their lives, and the most common mental health issues at work being anxiety and stress, management has a responsibility to acknowledge and address these problems within their teams. Good mental health works as an asset for businesses and helps employees thrive – without the right processes in place, businesses are at risk of developing a poor reputation for potential talent as well as at risk of current staff leaving. 

Below, Debbie Lentz, President of Global Supply Chain at RS Components and the Electrocomponents Group, discusses the importance of downtime during a working day and why raising awareness to the effect of poor mental health is important for your workplace culture. 

Employer acknowledgement

Many employees feel that their line management frown upon downtime during a working day – in fact, research highlights that 64% of managers are found to put the interest of their organisation ahead of their employees wellbeing at some point, and 12% doing so every day. This shows there is a clear lack of mental health awareness in the workplace, something that continues to be a social issue that needs to be addressed. 

Despite this rising issue, we are seeing improvements, as a study from CIPD found that mental health awareness increased by 31% in 2016 to 51% in 2018. So what should employers be doing to drive this awareness and help support the mental health of their staff?

Debbie comments on the topic: “Promoting positive mental health in the workplace is not an overnight fix, with research from LFS reporting that during 2017/18 15.4 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. It’s important, for both the organisation and the employee, that the benefits of mental health awareness are not ignored.” 

“From ensuring your staff take their vacations to encouraging short walks throughout the day – or even implementing exercise or meditation sessions – there are several ways employers can put processes in place that can reduce stress for their employees and improve their mental health.” 

Encouraging staff to take breaks 

Scheduling downtime from work is more than just booking annual leave. Much like many businesses, employees continue to work through their lunch breaks, with only a third of UK workers saying they don’t take their allocated lunch hour due to blockers such as workload, stress levels, and workplace culture. Chaining yourself to your desk is not key for success; for your brain and body to work to the best of its ability it needs adequate breaks. Without breaks from your work and your computer screen, your mental health and wellbeing can be seriously jeopardised, resulting in burnout and could even result in having to take long-term time off work. 

Debbie adds: “To allow your brain to work on a long-term basis, it needs rest. At a minimum, employees should be taking 15-20 minutes away from their work a couple of times a day – a proven way to keep up concentration levels and energy.” 

Allow for time to switch-off

Breaks in your day give your mind a chance to switch off for a short period. In doing so you can reflect on what you have already achieved, what you’ve been able to learn, as well as giving your brain a better opportunity to process and absorb any new information at first glance. 

Debbie continues: “Consider the time it takes to wind down from a marathon meeting, where your brain has been working overtime and processing information at a rate of knots. Employees will often walk out of a meeting feeling mentally and physically drained. Instead of rushing back to their desk to clear through emails, employees should take 5 minutes to relax, settle and allow their brain to recharge.”

“When they do head back to their laptop, employees will find their attention levels and minds are much sharper” 

“If your team or individuals within your team are not naturally inclined to take a break, schedule downtime in for them. This is a great way of incentivising employees to work to their best ability. Rewarding them on the impact and value they have created on the hours they have put in which  ultimately, results in the best returns for productivity, a more focused and stable workforce, and improved work-life balance.”

A better way of working 

Working longer hours is not the solution to productivity and leads to exhaustion which, in the long run, can be detrimental for both the employee and the business. Yet, 38% of employees feel obliged to stay at work longer in a bid to appear more productive. Additional research found that working longer hours per week is less productive than shorter hours, as well as being associated with higher instances of mental illness, strokes and heart disease. 

What’s more, research from Stanford University discovered that the output among employees falls after they work for 50 hours a week and falls rapidly after working for 55 hours a week. 

Productivity to some can often result in focusing on the length of time a task takes rather than what has been accomplished in that working day. Leaders must encourage their employees to break down tasks as, by doing so, employees will feel like they have accomplished more – resulting in boosted morale and increased productivity. Behance found that ‘placing importance on hours and physical presence over action and results leads to a culture of inefficiency and anxiety’. Healthier working habits like setting smaller and more achievable tasks are a simple way of reducing stress in the workplace. 

To truly increase productivity employers should also be increasing downtime. Scheduling downtime is a great way of sparking creativity and imagination among your staff, allowing them to work to their absolute best, as well as strengthening your workplace culture. 

Charlotte Giver

Charlotte is the founder and editor-in-chief at Your Coffee Break magazine. She studied English Literature at Fairfield University in Connecticut whilst taking evening classes in journalism at MediaBistro in NYC. She then pursued a BA degree in Public Relations at Bournemouth University in the UK. With a background working in the PR industry in Los Angeles, Barcelona and London, Charlotte then moved on to launching Your Coffee Break from the YCB HQ in London’s Covent Garden and has been running the online magazine for the past 10 years. She is a mother, an avid reader, runner and puts a bit too much effort into perfecting her morning brew.